Jul 28, 2014

A Former New Mexico Governor Served as Monrovia's Second Mayor

Before he became one of the founders of Monrovia, William A. Pile commanded an African-American regiment during the Civil War, served as U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, and was a controversial early governor of the New Mexico Territory.

A Former New Mexico Governor Served as Monrovia's Second Mayor

Though he lived only three years in Monrovia, William Anderson Pile was an influential and respected figure in the community. He helped incorporate the city in 1887, served as its second mayor, and was a member of the city health board and the Foothill Fruit Growers' Association. A brief L.A. Times  article about Pile notes that he moved to the area in 1886  to retire, but "didn't do a very good job of that," according to his great-great-niece, Barbara Pile, and remained active in civic affairs until his death in 1889.

Pile is remembered on a broader scale for his military service during the Civil War and forays into national politics. He served as a congressman from 1867 to 1869, as governor of the New Mexico territory from 1869 to 1871, and as ambassador to Venezuela from 1871 until 1874.

Born near Indianapolis, IN, in 1829, Pile's family moved to Missouri when he was a child, eventually settling in St. Louis. Pile studied religion, and became minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church of St. Louis. During the Civil War, he became a chaplain in the Union army and was assigned to the 1st Missouri Light Artillery in 1861.

"Generals in Blue: Lives of the Union Commanders" (LSU Press, 1964) notes that over the next year, Pile was promoted to captain and then lieutenant colonel. He was eventually made a brigadier general, and assigned to a black regiment that participated in the bloody Battle of Fort Blakely, one of the last conflicts of the war. For his "gallant and meritorious services" Pile was promoted to major general, and left the Army in 1866.

After his two-year congressional term, Pile was appointed territorial governor of the New Mexico Territory by President Ulysses S. Grant. His governorship was a controversial one. Pile was not supporter of Native American rights, and according to an  account  written by the  New Mexico State Record Center and Archives , he "adopted a hard line on the Indian question. He instructed probate judges to form posses to pursue, and in some cases exterminate, Indians found to be marauding in areas off their reservations." Nearly one hundred years later, Chicano activist Reies Tijerina also blamed Pile, among other American businessmen, for using deceit to invalidate Mexican land claims. 

Tijerina had valid reasons to be upset. In 1870, one year into his term, Governor Pile ordered Ira M. Bond, the territorial librarian to sell or destroy a large part of the New Mexico archives, which included papers left over from Spanish possession of the region. According to Tijerina, these included land grants for over 800 Mexican families dating back to the 1700s. Pile's stated reason was that he wanted office space occupied by archival materials in the Palace of the Governors.

Though the destruction of these papers may have been an innocent mistake, Pile might have indeed had undisclosed motives. Pile used his status as governor to become vice-president of the Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company, which owned roughly 2 million acres of land in New Mexico. Prior claims to the land by Mexicans could have conveniently been erased by the destruction of the archives. Either way, when his actions came to light, public outcry from the citizens of the territory prompted Pile to retrieve as many papers as he could, and a great number were salvaged as a result.

Perhaps because of this controversy, President Grant reassigned Pile in 1871 to the position of U.S. minister to Venezuela, which he held until 1874, when he helped to establish the La Guaira and Caracas Railway Company Ltd., an American and English-owned private corporation, which built a 23-mile narrow gauge railway that ran between La Guiara and Caracas from 1883 until 1951.

Pile finally moved to Monrovia in 1886, and purchased a 50-acre property, where he grew wine grapes. The following year, he commissioned the renowned Northern California architects Samuel and Joseph Cather Newsom to design a house for him, the stately " Idlewild " house at 255 N. Mayflower Avenue. (The Newsom brothers also designed the famous Carson Mansion in Eureka, California.)

Pile did not live long in Monrovia, however. After serving for one year as mayor, he applied to be consul general in Melbourne, Australia, but contracted pneumonia that same year and died on July 7, 1889. He is buried, along with his son, William E. Pile, in  Live Oak Cemetery , at 200 E. Duarte Road.

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